General Election 2017: Upper Bann battle for unionist hearts and minds

An Orange Order parade at Drumcree in Portadown. Photo: Mark Pearce /
An Orange Order parade at Drumcree in Portadown. Photo: Mark Pearce /

This election battle pits Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie’s relatively liberal brand of unionism against DUP incumbent David Simpson – an Orange Order stalwart and Gospel singer.

Upper Bann was traditionally Ulster Unionist before Simpson unseated David Trimble (now Lord Trimble of Lisnagarvey) by topping the poll in 2005.

Trimble held the seat for the UUP for 15 years between 1990 and 2005.

The end of his reign as MP followed a bitter general election in 2005, but the bad blood between the two main unionist parties in Upper Bann was never more evident than when Trimble fended off a challenge by David Simpson in 2001,

On that occasion, Trimble was jostled at the Banbridge count centre by more than 100 DUP supporters while police struggled to maintain order.

The following morning’s News Letter described the scenes as “ugly” with the headline: “Trimble runs a gauntlet of hatred.”

The constituency’s main population centres are Portadown, Lurgan and Banbridge.

Though Beattie will be seen as too liberal and progressive for more traditional unionists to countenance, his support for same-sex marriage and a change in abortion legislation may attract cross-community votes from nationalists who believe a unionist victory is inevitable.

The outgoing MP has a strong public service track record, and the Orange Order credentials seen by many unionists as essential for election, but highly-decorated war veteran Beattie has many qualities admired by most unionists.

Simpson’s 2010 majority over the UUP of 3,361 was cut to 2,264 in 2015 when up against the UUP’s Jo-Anne Dobson.

It will be interesting to see if Beattie can narrow the gap further, or ever unseat his DUP rival.

If not this time around then in future polls, a single nationalist candidate benefiting from an fairly equal split in the unionist vote could take the seat.

On this occasion, both of the unionists and Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd are strong, high-profile candidates, while many have expressed surprise that the SDLP is fielding local councillor Declan McAlinden rather than party stalwart Dolores Kelly.

Candidates for 2017:

•Doug Beattie, UUP

•Tara Doyle, Alliance

•Declan McAlinden, SDLP

•John O’Dowd, Sinn Fein

•David Simpson, DUP

2015 results:

David Simpson (DUP): 15,430 (32.7%)

J - A Dobson (UUP): 13,166 (27.9%)

C Seeley (SF): 11,593 (24.6%)

Dolores Kelly (SDLP): 4,238 (9%)

P Lavery (Alliance): 1,780 (3.8%)

M Kelly (CISTA): 460 (1%)

D Harte (WP): 351 (0.7%)

A Bhogal (Cons.): 201 (0.4%)

Electorate: 80,060

Turnout: 47,480 (59.3%)

Combined unionist vote: 61%

2010 results:

David Simpson (DUP): 14,000 (33.8%)

H Hamilton (Ulster Cons. and Unionists): 10,639 (25.7%)

J O’Dowd (SF): 10,237 (24.7%)

D Kelly (SDLP): 5,276 (12.7%)

B Heading (Alliance): 1,231 (3%)

Electorate: 74,732

Turnout: 41,681 (55.8%)

Combined unionist vote: 59.5%